Selfheal – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

Selfheal is a forgotten healer that has made a recent comeback as a modern-day heal-all with promising potential for use in food and medicine.

Scientific Name

Prunella vulgaris.

Family

Lamiaceae.

Botanical Description

The flowers appear on purple, sometimes pinkish, cylindrical spikes and distinguish the plant from others in the mint family by their tight, sausage-shaped whorl.

The stalked leaves are long, wide and ovalish. The four-sided, weak stems cause the plant to grow sideways before reaching up to the sky. The fruit is an oblong, purplish (when ripe) drupe.

Status

Perennial. Native.

Habitat and Distribution

The plant prefers grassy places but will grow almost anywhere from lawns, roadsides, meadows and pastures.

Parts Used For Food

Leaves and flowers.

Harvest Time

This perennial blooms from May to August. The young shoots and leaves are often collected in June before flowering.

Food Uses of Selfheal

The whole plant has been used as a wild edible, either raw or cooked. The younger plants are most tender. The flavour is similar to romaine lettuce.1

The leaves and young shoots of this wild edible are versatile greens that can be eaten raw in salads, added to soups and stews, or used as a potherb.

The leaves – freshly chopped, dried or powdered – can be soaked in cold water to make a refreshing beverage.2

Nutritional Profile of Selfheal

Selfheal contains vitamins A, B, C, K, flavonoids, and rutin. The plant’s high content of antioxidants has been the subject of much recent research.3

Herbal Medicine Uses of Selfheal

In early medicine, selfheal had a reputation as a wound herb. John Gerard (1545–1612) wrote: “It serveth for the same that Bugle doth, and in the world there are not two better wound herbes as hath been often prooved.”4

Modern herbalism records selfheal as a topical emollient, astringent and vulnerary herb.1

The leaves and stems are said to be antibacterial, astringent, diuretic, hypotensive (reduces blood pressure), haematuria (blood in urine) antitumour and a powerful antioxidant.

The flower spikes are also supposed to restore the liver. New research suggests that the plant does indeed possess hepatoprotective (liver-protecting) properties.5

The herb is also meant to be a tonic for the gallbladder in that it stimulates and promotes healing.

Other Uses

The cylindrical spiked flowers make attractive additions to flower arrangements fresh or dried.

Cautions

Allergic reactions to selfheal have been reported by some.6

Seek medical advice before using during pregnancy, when breastfeeding or if you are an allergic individual.

About The Author

Robin HarfordRobin Harford is a plant-based forager, ethnobotanical researcher, and wild food educator. He is the author of Plantopedia: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants.

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References

  1. Tilford, G. L. (1997) Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. Missoula, Mont: Mountain Press Pub.
  2. Facciola, S. (1998) Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Vista, CA: Kampong Publications.
  3. Sárosi, Sz. & Bernáth, J. (2008) The Antioxidant Properties of Prunella Vulgaris L. Acta Alimentaria. 37 (2), 293–300.
  4. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s Flora. Oxford: Helicon.
  5. Williams, C. J. (2010) Medicinal Plants in Australia. Vol. 1, Vol. 1.
  6. Gardner, Z. E. et al. (eds.) (2013) Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton: American Herbal Products Association, CRC Press.

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